I recently visited Washington D.C. on a school service trip. As I first walked around I was captivated by the city; the uniqueness of each building, the secret service surrounding the White House, the designer bags that hung from the arms of the women passing me, and the fast paced motion of everyone trying to get from point A to B. I couldn't help but notice all of the beauty that D.C. encompassed.
On Monday, the start of our week of service, we participated in a writing exercise which began with the prompt "The last time I saw someone who was homeless I felt.." As I sat there and thought about the last time I saw someone who was homeless, it was easy to remember how I felt. Though I quickly remembered these feelings, it was still hard for me to pick my pen up and actually write about them. I was almost embarrassed to admit how I actually felt. How could I sit here, at the beginning of my week of volunteering with the homeless, admitting that I feel sad, uncomfortable, and scared around them?
My perspective quickly changed. On Tuesday night we were given the privilege to host a dinner party. We decorated the tables with colorful center pieces, board games, decks of cards, pop corn, and dinner menus. After preparing the meal, we opened the doors to 40 people experiencing homelessness and hunger. I was very nervous for how the night would play out and so many questions crossed my mind; Who would I meet? Would they like me? Would they enjoy their meal? What would we talk about? However, I was at ease a few minutes later when a man named Peter sat down next to me.
Peter sat down, tucked his duffel bag with all of his belongings under the table, and began to take off the layers of jackets he had on. I didn't feel awkward, uncomfortable or scared around Peter. We talked the entire dinner party about literally everything. He told me about the travelling he had done earlier in his life, the family that he had living in Europe, his political standpoint, his favorite sports, movies, and music, and about his dream of having a wife and children. He was also very interested in my life. He enjoyed listening to my stories from studying abroad, my experiences student teaching, and about all of my favorite things.
As Peter traded me his fudge brownie for my mint ice cream, he told me that he was "winning at life." Here was this man, who would leave this dinner to go spend his night sleeping under a bridge, yet he had the biggest heart and was full of so much optimism. He explained to me that as long as you have your liberty, family, health, and self respect you would still win at life. Before leaving, Peter looked around to make sure everyone got enough food, and then snuck two extra brownies and gave them both to me. His willingness to give and his positive outlook on life truly inspired me and I feel so humbled to have been able to eat dinner with him.
Fast forwarding to Friday, our last day of service, there was something different about D.C. that caught my eye. Something that many others seemed to overlook, both accidentally and deliberately. What caught my eye as I walked through our nation's capital were the people experiencing homelessness and hunger on each street corner. The same people that I walked by in the beginning of the week and failed to notice were now the familiar faces that I had met throughout my week.
When sitting down at the end of the week with the same writing prompt my feelings changed drastically. The last time I saw someone who was homeless I felt hopeful. I now feel this sense of hope that things can change. I realize that one person does not have to do everything if every person does one thing. After volunteering at so many amazing organizations which existed soley to help those experiencing homelessness and hunger, I realized how big of a problem we have on our hands. Though we have made so much progress, there is still so much more that needs to be done. These people are experiencing homelessness and hunger everyday. These people are parents, siblings, and children. These people are our neighbors and co-workers. These people are kind, educated people with college degrees. These people are veterans who have served our country and risked their lives for us. These people are people and they matter.